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How to Spot Counterfeit Money


by Marko Peric

Recently on Venture there was a feature story about counterfeit money. The fact is that there is a lot of fake cash out there, and it's something we all need to be on the lookout for. It can be difficult to tell the funny money from the real stuff, however, so to help you out, here's the guide to spotting counterfeit money.

  • When held up to the light, most real money displays a "ghost" image. This "ghost" is typically a faint image of the politician featured on the bill. The ghost should not be named Casper.
  • Most bills will have some as a security feature some sort of fluorescent marking that only appears when held under ultraviolet light. This will not be the words "All work and no play make Jack a dull boy" repeated 50 times.
  • While US currency does not yet include holograms, Canada and many other nations have adopted this advanced and hard to duplicate security feature. The hologram typically changes colour when tilted in the light. It will not feature an image of Optimus Prime that transforms between truck and robot mode when tilted.
  • Real money features the signature of someone from the treasury department. Who this might be may vary from time to time. It will never be Donald Duck.
  • All currency includes a portrait, frequently of a fondly-remembered dead politician. Commonwealth nations will often feature the current monarch. Military dictatorships generally feature the current dictator. None of these people is likely to be wearing a toque.
  • US currency in particular always features a portrait of someone, likely a president, who has been dead for a long time. This will not be Bill Clinton giving a thumbs up.
  • Canadian money will always feature a portrait of a former Prime Minister or the Queen. It is important to remember that the queen is an older woman, and looks nothing like the late Freddy Mercury, who was in the band Queen.
  • Frequently one will find raised printing on currency. This could be braille notation of the value, or raised numbers for a textural security feature. Run your fingers over a bill and feel it for yourself. The texture will be obviously different, but subtle. It will not be a pasted-on cutout made of 60 grit sandpaper.
  • On the reverse side of many bills you may find pictures of animals. Almost always these are real animals, but occasionally there might be famous mythical creatures, such as dragons, griffins, or unicorns. There will not be a pterodactyl equipped with rocket launchers.
  • Another picture you might find on the reverse side would be a scene of cultural and/or historical significance. Star Wars geeks waiting in line for Phantom Menace tickets is not an example of this.
  • Generally paper money is printed in a few common denominations, and almost always involves only the numerals one, two, five and zero. Other numbers should immediately arouse suspicion, as should the symbol for pi.
  • Micro printing is a popular security feature on many currencies, since even the highest resolution copiers have difficulty duplicating extremely fine detail. Look for real small read text somewhere on a bill. Keep in mind that in the real world no one is going to look at this closely enough to notice unless they already suspect the note is fake, so you probably shouldn't bother.
  • All paper money has a unique serial number. This is typically printed in two different locations on the bill, and the both numbers should match. Serial numbers typically contain letters and numerals, so 8675309 is unlikely to be a legitimate serial number.
  • Some bills may have a patch of a different colour, often with the currency value imprinted on it. This may be holographic or colour changing. It will have a different texture than the rest of the bill, and it should not be able to be scratched or peeled off. If scratched and sniffed, it should not smell like strawberries. As well, if it does scratch off, it will probably not reveal the words "Please try again" underneath.


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